Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Community: “Get Lost!”

By Robert Widmann

The good news out of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is: No decision has yet come down on the 11 Jane Street Project.

The bad news—ditto.

Officially, the developer has been given the OK to demolish the parking garage at 11 Jane Street and has been directed to revise his plans to give the proposed 95-foot-high super-luxury condo structure a “haircut” and also to maybe make some design changes.

Many in the community, especially those who carried a vociferous protest to the halls of the Municipal Building and to the LPC, are worried they are being set up for a Gansevoort Street-style rooking where the really bad news—the developer wins—is delivered in two steps.

Step One: The community is mollified by promises from the LPC that the developer will be restricted here to historic building heights.

Step Two: The developer mostly ignores the above and his revised plan is quickly approved by the LPC.

Actually, the bad news on 11 Jane is already in. The community protest is a dead duck. The LPC simply hasn’t had the guts to throw the dirt over it yet.

All of this, and more, is strange coming from a mayoral agency whose head-of-ticket is a self-described “progressive fighter for the people”. Even real estate magazine and info source, THE REAL DEAL, has been left puzzled. “Two years into his term, the mayor has proven to be far more pro-developer than many had expected”, said a subheading to a story appearing in a recent issue (February 2016). The same publication elsewhere notes that, “soaring real estate values have been fueled in large measure by rich foreigners investing in luxury apartments.”

The 11 Jane project, all 30,000 plus square feet of it, is being developed for just seven owners, the kind of people who can toss down $20 to $30 million for a pad on Jane Street. Just our kind of folks, right?

But there may be a bit more to the story.

The Wall Street Journal headlined an April 22, 2016 article this way:

“De Blasio’s Ties To Real Estate Industry Are Scrutinized”—“New York City mayor’s close alliance to developers surfaces as investigators look at political donations.”

Crain’s New York Business blog, April 22, 2016, fills in some sad details in the developing developer scenario:

“In April of that same year (2015), AMC Networks Chief Executive Joshua Sapan gave $5,000 to the Campaign for One New York, which was created to advance the mayor’s policy agenda. In August, Sapan’s firm announced plans to expand an IFC Theater location in Greenwich Village, a proposal that attracted significant community opposition. It required approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a mayoral agency, which gave the green light in December.”

It needs to be emphasized that the LPC is, in fact, a mayoral agency. It is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. It is hard to believe that important development projects before the LPC are not at least subject to a phone call to the mayor’s office.

So do recent decisions at the LPC begin to make some sort of sense when viewed against the above backdrop—the backdrop of a mayor who talks one way, but walks another? Not what we expected, right?

The question remaining for a lot of us out here is: Why go through all the hope and heartache of being one of the vociferous when it’s all just a done deal anyway? Maybe, from now on, we need to start getting vociferous in the right places.

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